The Day We Were Robbed in Indonesia

by Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical on May 13, 2013

This is the longest post I’ve ever written (over 2500 words) and is a story of both our most exciting and worst day during our sabbatical in Indonesia.

You hear stories of tourists or foreigners getting robbed but you never think it will happen to you.  I’m too careful, you think.  I don’t frequent areas where robberies occur, you believe.  But the truth is you can get robbed anywhere whether you travel or you stay home.

Any Other Sunday

The day started the same as any other day.  It was our last Sunday in Indonesia before ending our sabbatical and flying back to the United States.

We got up a bit late and were rushing around to make Church service on time.  We had been attending the local neighborhood Church in Kopo Permai where my wife had taught Sunday school many years ago.

My in-laws had already left for the Church that they attend so we were left to lockup the house.  We locked our bedroom and then headed out the front door, locking the door and security gate behind us.  Then I spent 5 minutes wrestling with the front gate lock before it finally submitted to my will.

My wife and kids were already a block away so I ran to catch up with them.

Church service was great and we enjoyed talking with all our friends we had connected with over the course of our 3-month sabbatical.

Of course, by this time the kids were restless, hungry and wanting to go home and eat lunch so we said our goodbyes and started walking home.

The Entry

Nothing felt out of place.  It felt just like every other Sunday.  The sun was shining, people were smiling, birds were chirping.  Little did we know that things were about to change for us.

When we got back to the house some friends of ours were waiting at the gate as they wanted to visit with us before we returned to the US.

I unlocked the front gate to let everyone in and then my oldest son took the keys to unlock the front door of the house.

He struggled a bit and finally was able to unlock the door and push it open.  It made an eerie grinding sound and then got stuck partially open.

The sound didn’t quite register with me at that point but I remember thinking that it wasn’t normal because that door always opened so easily.

My wife pushed the door all the way open with it continuing to make that grinding and scraping sound.

She walked into the living room, took a few steps and then stopped.

It was then that she realized she was standing on broken glass.

Our house had been broken into.

Shock and disbelief set in quite quickly.  It then set off a cascade of thoughts in my mind that quickly raced out of control like a runaway nuclear reaction.

Were the robbers still inside the house?

My expensive camera gear!!  My laptop with all the photos I’ve taken and confidential financial information.

How did they get in?

If I catch them someone is going to either die or be seriously hurting.

We must have been targeted because we are foreigners.

How could this happen to us?

Why did this happen?

The thought that stood out the most to me like a big neon sign flashing on the Las Vegas strip was my camera and computer gear.  We had locked our room so it had to be safe.

I raced up the stairs taking 3 steps at a time to our room on the second floor not even thinking that the burglar could still be in the house.

Our door was locked, thank God!  Then I noticed the broken glass littering the floor.

Each room of the house has a door that locks with a key.  However, there is a small window above the door.  The burglar had broken these windows out and climbed up over the door to gain access to the rooms.

The Day We Were Robbed in Indonesia

This is the window that was broken and what the thief crawled through to gain entry to our locked room.

Since the door locks with a key, he couldn’t simply unlock it once inside and would have had to escape the same way.

This is the size of the window the thief broke and then crawled through.

This is the size of the window the thief broke and then crawled through.

I quickly unlocked the door and opened it.  It made that same grinding sound as broken glass scraped across the marble floor.

The Aftermath

When I looked inside I saw our dresser drawers open and our things tossed everywhere.  I quickly looked to see if my laptop and camera bag were gone but miraculously both were still there right on the couch where I had left them in plain sight.

I can’t tell you the relief I felt when I saw my laptop sitting there on top of my camera bag.

I suspect the thief was either looking for a quick and easy cash grab or had possibly gotten spooked and left before he could grab them.

Knowing that the thief had not been able to take anything of real value our thoughts turned to whether the person or persons were still in the house.

We quickly did a search room to room looking to see if anyone was hiding.

We looked in every nook and cranny of that house until we got to one room that was still locked. The glass from the window above the door had been broken out.

We didn’t have a key to that room as my in-laws had not returned from Church yet so I climbed up to look through the window but I did not see anyone inside.

By now my shock was turning into anger.  I was angry that someone would violate us like this. I wanted an ass to kick.

Looking around we began to notice other things.  Some lock boxes were broken open, there were pillow cases stuffed with belongings, burglar tools were left behind.

There was also blood everywhere as apparently the burglar cut himself on the glass he had broken.  The door to our room had bloody finger prints and smears on it.

But all the valuables had not been taken.  My mother-in-laws tablet and cell phone were left lying on the floor.  There was plenty of evidence indicating that the thief(s) had made a quick departure.  Maybe they had been spooked?

In the end what was taken was $20 from my wife’s purse, a gold watch of unknown value, a Blackberry phone charger and possibly a leather belt.  Left behind were over $20K in electronics and camera gear.

However, there was a casualty.  My Lee Big Stopper long exposure filter that I had paid close to $150 for and waited almost 8 months to get had been shattered.

My poor Lee Big Stopper. :(

My poor Lee Big Stopper. :(

I had kept it in its nylon pouch in the dresser drawer and it had been tossed on the ground and crushed.  A small loss compared to what could have been taken but still it hurt a bit.

The Investigation

By this time the satpam (neighborhood security) had arrived and searched the house all over again. The satpam had a long piece of rebar with black electrical tape wrapped around one end.  I would hate to be on the receiving end of that.

After we searched the house and took stock of what was missing we started to question how the thief had gained entry.

All the doors were locked.  With the exception of the broken glass above two of the bedroom doors all the outside facing windows were intact.  How did they get in?

The architecture of the house is interesting.  It’s a 2 story house with 2 bedrooms downstairs, the living room and the dining room and kitchen areas.

Indonesia houses

This is the open area in the back of the house. Great for fresh air but bad for letting in robbers.

The back area of the downstairs opens up to the sky.  There is no roof over that part.  There is a tall cement wall that towers up to the second floor and has some iron security posts rising from the top of the wall and then jutting down at an angle to the small alley between the rows of houses.

Indonesia Houses

Here are the security bars on the back wall to keep people from climbing over from the alley in the back.

But it became obvious that this was the only route the burglars could have used to get in.

Houses are built wall to wall in this neighborhood.  On each side of the house there is either an impenetrable concrete wall or a weave of barbed wire to crawl over.

My in-laws had been broken into before several years ago and had since installed additional security including bars on most main windows and iron security doors both upstairs and downstairs.

Behind our house was a narrow alley that is gated and locked on both ends. Across the alley on the other side was a vacant house.

The Day We Were Robbed in Indonesia

This is how close the neighboring house behind us is. You don’t even need to be a circus performer to make this leap.

The satpam were suspicious that the person or persons had made entry by jumping over the narrow alley from the roof of that house.

They suspected that the person may even be holed up there so they setup a watch on the house.

My in-laws had returned home at this point and after surveying the scene called the police to report the crime. After about an hour, the police arrived on the scene.  There was a uniformed officer and a plainclothes officer who was probably a detective.

Bandung Polisi

My youngest and I posing with the police truck.

They looked around a bit, made some speculations on how the burglar had made entry and then took a few tools as evidence.

Polisi Bandung

No robbery is complete without a photo with the police. This officer was great and so proud that his rig was a Ford.

They also indicated that our house was targeted because I (a bule) was living there.  They had probably been watching us and knew that we went to Church every Sunday.  They were just waiting for their moment.

The Chase

Meanwhile the satpam had contacted the owner of the vacant house and requested keys so that the place could be searched.

We had seen some open windows on the second floor that led to the roof and were suspicious that the person could be inside holed up and waiting for things to calm down.

I went down to the front of the house and stood watch with the satpam and my father-in-law.  After several hours the keys arrived and the satpam along with my father-in-law started searching the house.

They headed to the upstairs where the open windows were.

Suddenly I heard a loud scream and all of the satpam came running down the stairs.  The look on their faces was pure adrenaline.

They started yelling in Indonesian and motioning that the thief was on the roof trying to cross over to our house.

One satpam took off running down the street to the other block where our house was located.  I took off running after him.

I was running in slow motion. Time stood still.

As I ran, I saw all the neighbors standing at their gates watching the scene unfold.  I remember each face that I passed.

What an uncanny sight it must have been to see a tall lanky white man running at breakneck speed, chasing after their local security guard.

I overtook the satpam quite quickly and sprinted through the neighborhood looking up at the rooftops to see if I could catch the robber hopping along the roofs.

I made it to our house and bolted inside running straight upstairs.  My wife and mother-in-law were all in a panic wondering what was going on.

“The maling (thief), the maling (thief) might be in the house!” I gasped.

My lungs were on fire and my heart was about to beat out of my chest.  I could barely draw a breath.

Then my wife told me it was all a mistake.

Apparently they had seen movement at the windows on the other house and had screamed when they saw an arm come out and a head appear.

Turns out it was only my father-in-law.  False alarm!

The Real Damage

We spent the rest of the day and night cleaning up the mess the robber had made.  To be honest we all felt a little uneasy in the house, but none more so than my kids.

They didn’t want to be alone.  They didn’t want to sleep in their beds even though it was in the same room as us.  They talked non-stop about the robber.

“What if the robber comes back?”

“Why didn’t the robber take my stuff?”

“Why did the robber come into our room?”

“Is the robber going to get caught?”

“Is the robber still hiding in the house?”

My youngest was really affected and talked about the robber all the time.  My oldest closed off and didn’t want to hear any talk of the robber at all.  When we did discuss it he got really upset and angry.

He was just really scared but didn’t want to show any fear so it came out as anger instead.

None of us slept very well that night.  I kept a stick and a hammer handy just in case the robber couldn’t resist coming back for all the expensive goodies he left behind.

We had less than a week left in Indonesia at this point.  Whenever we went out though, one person always stayed back at home.

We didn’t want to risk a second burglary.  The temptation may have been too great for whoever had violated our space, and next time they just may have brought some friends.

Always Keep it Positive

It could have been a sour note to leave Indonesia on but instead we chose not to be victims of circumstance.

Instead we chose to focus on all the amazing experiences we had there.

When you really think about it we have done something most people will never do.  We took 3 months and made some amazing experiences.

We spent 2 weeks in Bali.

Bali, Indonesia

Us in Bali taking a glass bottom boat tour to Turtle Island.

We ate new and incredibly delicious foods.

We grew closer as a family.

We rocked the zip lines.

We experienced all the wildlife at Taman Safari in Bogor.

We soaked in the hot springs at Ciater.

We experienced Christmas and New Years in a new culture.

We met lots of really cool people who have become our friends.

We got to spend time with family we haven’t seen in over 7 years.

We got to experience the thrill of amusement parks.

We got to eat durian.

We did too much and had too many amazing experiences to let one robber steal that from us.

You can take our money and stuff, break our windows and violate our space, but you will never steal our experiences.

Those are ours alone and you will never take them away.

Time Heals

Now that we’ve been back in the US for almost 3 months now the kids are getting back to normal.  They still talk about the robbery but they now sleep in their own beds in their own rooms.

For a time they were worried the robber would follow us back to the US.

If we have gained anything from the experience of being robbed it’s that you can never be too careful.

Robberies can happen anywhere at any time.

However, don’t let the fear of getting robbed and losing valuables deter you from making experiences.

After all, your possessions are just inanimate objects that can be replaced.

What can’t be replaced are experiences you never had because you were too afraid of being robbed or because of some other irrational fear.

So get out there and start making experiences!

How about you?  When you travel how do you secure your belongings?  Have you ever been robbed?  Share your experience below.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

dee July 13, 2013 at 7:56 pm

I’m sorry to hear that, Matt. I spend most of my time in Indonesia but have never experienced such thing (well, hopefully will never). But you’re right, it can happen anywhere, anytime. Hope your family are fine. I’ve been reading your blog for quite some times, have not been updated recently though? All the best and greetings from an Indonesian currently staying in the US:)

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical July 13, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Hi Dee! Thanks for reading and reminding me that I have been seriously neglecting this blog. I need to get a few posts together from some of our other Indonesian adventures.

Our youngest son is still traumatized by the “maling”. He won’t sleep in his own room by himself as he’s still too scared.

Thanks again for reading! Hope your time in the US is fantastic!

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